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What powers do the Police have?

There are laws in place about the powers the police have and how they can use them.  The police are allowed to approach you at any time.  It’s a good idea to find out why the police want to talk to you before answering their questions and to always stay polite and respectful.

Can the police ask me for my name and address?

If the police ask for your name and address or to see some identification, generally you don’t have to tell them or show them anything. But the police can ask for your name and address if they think:

  • You’ve committed a crime;
  • You may be able to assist in the officer’s inquiries in connection with a crime that has been, may have been or may be committed;
  • You’ve been involved in a car accident;
  • You’re driving a car or riding a motorbike.

They can also ask if you’re being breath tested for alcohol.

It’s against the law to refuse to answer the police or give them a fake name or address.

Do the police have to tell me why they want my name? 

The police must tell you why they want your name, including what they think you might have done, or why they are asking you questions.

If you think the police don’t have a good reason to ask for your details, or to search you, it is a good idea to ask for their name, rank, and place of duty. The police, by law, have to tell you this information. You should write this down so you don’t forget. Remember to be polite!

Do I have to answer any other questions?

Apart from giving your name and address in the situations above, you do not need to say anything else, even if you are arrested. The police officer must tell you that you don’t need to answer their questions but that anything you do or say can be used in court as evidence.

When can I be searched?

The police can stop and search you, your car or your house if they have a warrant.  A warrant means that police have already been given permission by a court to search you or your property. You should always ask to see a warrant before allowing a search.

Without a warrant, they can also search you if they think you have:

  • Something connected with a crime  such as something that is usually used for breaking into houses, stealing cars, or taking drugs;
  • A weapon, like a gun or a knife;
  • Illegal drugs or things that can be inhaled to get high.

If you have been arrested, the police can also search you.  If you refuse to co-operate they’re allowed to use reasonable force to do so.  

When you’re under 18, most of the time a police officer can’t search you, your property or your clothes during their investigation of a crime unless a support person is present.  This could be a parent, carer, lawyer or someone else that you choose to be there. 

However, the police can search you without a support person present where:

  • the search needs to be carried out urgently;
  • delaying the search could place you or another person in danger;  or
  • delaying the search may cause evidence to be lost or destroyed. 

If they do this, the police have to make sure to give you appropriate respect and not cause you unnecessary embarrassment.

Before they search you, the police also have to tell you that you’re allowed to get legal advice and representation.

How will I be searched?

There are two main types of searches, frisks and strip searches.

For all kinds of searches, someone of the same sex should conduct do the search and it must be done in a private place. 

Frisk searches

A police officer can pat down the outside of your clothes to feel for guns, knives, drugs or other items.  The police may also check your outer clothes (while you wear them) and any pockets for the items listed above. These searches can be done in public.

Police can use sniffer dogs to smell you at places such as concerts and sporting events.   If a sniffer dog indicates that it has smelt the odour of drugs, the police can search you without a warrant.

Strip searches

Strip searches can only be done if police reasonably believe that by removing your clothing, they can collect evidence relevant to a crime that has been committed  and the officer provides you with adequate clothing to replace the clothing they have removed.

Can a police officer confiscate my things?

A police officer can confiscate anything that belongs to you if:

  • the officer suspects it can be used to prove someone committed a crime;
  • the item is something dangerous to health or safety;  or
  • it’s a weapon or an illegal drug.

In the Northern Territory, there are certain restricted areas where it’s illegal to drink and have alcohol. If police find you drinking in these areas, or suspect you have been, they can confiscate your alcohol too.  For more information see our Alcohol pages.

When can I be arrested? 

The police can arrest you if they think: 

  • you are committing a crime or about to;
  • you are have committed a crime;
  • have committed a crime in another State; 
  • there is a warrant for your arrest.

The police can apprehend (take you in to custody but not arrest you) you if they think you’re drunk in public or trespassing somewhere privately owned, and:

  • you may cause harm to yourself or someone else;
  • you can’t look after yourself, and there’s no-one else to look after you;
  • you could intimidate, alarm or annoy people; or
  • you’re likely to commit an offence.

The police must tell you why you have been arrested.  They’re not allowed to arrest you only to investigate whether or not you’ve committed an offence.

Can the police use force to arrest me?

Generally, police can use any amount of force that is reasonable and necessary to exercise their duties.

A police officer can only use force if you resist arrest.  This means that if you cooperate the police can’t use force, but the more you resist arrest the more force police can use. 

When can I be interviewed?

You cannot be forced to attend an interview unless you are under arrest.  If the police ask you to go to the station with them, you should ask if you are under arrest.  If you are not, you are free to go. 

If you have committed a serious offence,  before the police interview you, they must tell you that a support person (like a parent or carer) must be present during the interview.  You can also call a lawyer.

If you are under 18 and the police officer suspects that you have committed a serious crime, the police cannot interview you unless a support person is present.

Do I have to answer the questions in an interview?

No – you have the right to remain silent.  This means you do not have to say anything in an interview except to confirm your name and address.  

What if I am Aboriginal?

If you are Aboriginal, then it’s important you let the police know this. The police have certain guidelines they should follow when interviewing Aboriginal persons. These include:

  • allowing you an interpreter, in case you have any difficulty in understanding what is happening;
  • allowing you to have a support person with you in interview; and
  • contacting a lawyer for you.

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and have any problems upon arrest then there are different agencies you can get in touch with, or ask the police to call for you.

If you are an Aboriginal person living in the northern areas of the Northern Territory you can call the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) on:

  • Darwin 1800 898 251
  • Katherine 1800 897 728
  • Nhulunbuy 1800 022 823

This is a 24 hour legal service and you will always be able to speak to a solicitor. You can ask the police for the agency’s after hours number.

If you are an Aboriginal person living in the southern areas of the Northern Territory you can call the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) on 1800 636 079 (office hours) or 0419 849 870 (after hours).  This is another 24 service and there is always a solicitor on call. 

Can the police ask me to ‘move on’?

In some situations the police can ask you to leave a certain area.  This is called being told to ‘move on.’  You can be told to move on from a particular area by the police if they have a reason to think:

  • that you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime;
  • people in the area are in danger;
  • your actions might get in the way of other people or vehicles;
  • you’re annoying or irritating others in a public place. 

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Last updated 31 August 2012. 

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